Sunday, September 25, 2011

Superfly (Parks Jr. 1972)

"Ain't I clean. Bad machine. Super cool. Super mean. Dealin' good. For The Man. Superfly; here I stand..."

There are a ton of different things that can make a film entertaining. Some films bank on interesting characters to be watchable. Other films can gross you out or spark some kind of morbid curiosity inside the audience. Music is another, often underrated, aspect to film making that can help make watching memorable. This is exactly what happens in the classic blaxploitation film, Superfly. The soundtrack, written and performed by the legendary funk artist Curtis Mayfield, is one of the best and most remembered in the history of film. In fact, it is one of the only soundtracks that made more money than the film that it was promoting.

Superfly follows the story of a cocaine dealer named Priest who is looking for his way out of the business. His idea is to get his hands on an abundance of coke and then sell it in a very short time period. The storyline may not seem very original, but this is not a film looking for complexities. Superfly is nothing more than an exercise in style.

Like previously discussed in my write up of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song , the thought of a strong black protagonist was different and scary for the "all white juries" that paid money to see movies. Priest is not quite as radical as Sweetback, but the influence is obvious. They are both products of their ghetto demands and they both have a tendency to outwit "The Man". The biggest difference between the two films is that Superfly is not an anti-white person movie. It tries to legitimately bring the audience into the life of a drug dealer in the ghetto. He is trying for a better life, but his comrades do not see that as a possibility.

Back to the beginning - nothing reinforces the style and vernacular of the time better than Mayfield's soundtrack. He is seen in only a few scenes in the movie, but his music can be heard in almost every single moment of the action. In fact, it has been said that Superfly is simply an overlong music video for the funk legend. Personally, I love the music. There is nothing particularly entertaining about the movie, so the music alone makes it memorable.

Blaxploitation is an interesting genre that managed to raise some significant questions in the film community. Did films like this help to advance the role of African American actors in Hollywood, or did the grit and truth behind the message frighten the mainstream and force these films into the underground. I think it did a little bit of both.

The impact that Superfly had on movies may be questionable, but it still features an amazing soundtrack and some pretty memorable lines of dialogue. It is more about style than entertainment, but that does not mean it is not entertaining. I like Superfly on a lot of levels. But it is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination.

Superfly: C

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